Age of Jahiliyah

A blog of wide and varied interest, including Islam, Muslims, Poetry, Art and much more.

Archive for the day “April 9, 2011”

Suheir Hammad Performs “First Writing Since” on Def Poetry

Caution: This contains language that might be offensive to some.

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My Grandmother’s Love Letter

There are no stars tonight
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.

There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother’s mother,
Elizabeth,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,
And liable to melt as snow.
Over the greatness of such space
Steps must be gentle.
It is all hung by an invisible white hair.
It tremble as birch limbs webbing the air.

And I ask myself:

Are your fingers long enough to play
Old keys that are but echoes:
Is the silence strong enough
To carry back the music to its source
And back to you again
As though to her?”

Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.

The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee,
Where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam
‘Round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold
Seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way
That he’d “sooner live in hell”.

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way
Over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold
It stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze
Till sometimes we couldn’t see;
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one
To whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight
In our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead
Were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he,
“I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you
Won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no;
Then he says with a sort of moan:
“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold
Till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ’tain’t being dead — it’s my awful dread
Of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair,
You’ll cremate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed,
So I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn;
But God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day
Of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all
That was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death,
And I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid,
Because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say:
“You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you
To cremate those last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid,
And the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb,
In my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight,
While the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows —
O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay
Seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent
And the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad,
But I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing,
And it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge,
And a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice
It was called the “Alice May”.
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit,
And I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry,
“Is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”
Some planks I tore from the cabin floor,
And I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around,
And I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared —
Such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal,
And I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like
To hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled,
And the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled
Down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak
Went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow
I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about
Ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said:
“I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked”; . . .
Then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm,
In the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile,
And he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear
You’ll let in the cold and storm —
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee,
It’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Men of the High North by Robert W. Service

Men of the High North, the wild sky is blazing;
Islands of opal float on silver seas;
Swift splendors kindle, barbaric, amazing;
Pale ports of amber, golden argosies.
Ringed all around us the proud peaks are glowing;
Fierce chiefs in council, their wigwam the sky;
Far, far below us the big Yukon flowing,
Like threaded quicksilver, gleams to the eye.

Men of the High North, you who have known it;
You in whose hearts its splendors have abode;
Can you renounce it, can you disown it?
Can you forget it, its glory and its goad?
Where is the hardship, where is the pain of it?
Lost in the limbo of things you’ve forgot;
Only remain the guerdon and gain of it;
Zest of the foray, and God, how you fought!

You who have made good, you foreign faring;
You money magic to far lands has whirled;
Can you forget those days of vast daring,
There with your soul on the Top o’ the World?
Nights when no peril could keep you awake on
Spruce boughs you spread for your couch in the snow;
Taste all your feasts like the beans and the bacon
Fried at the camp-fire at forty below?

Can you remember your huskies all going,
Barking with joy and their brushes in air;
You in your parka, glad-eyed and glowing,
Monarch, your subjects the wolf and the bear?
Monarch, your kingdom unravisht and gleaming;
Mountains your throne, and a river your car;
Crash of a bull moose to rouse you from dreaming;
Forest your couch, and your candle a star.

You who this faint day the High North is luring
Unto her vastness, taintlessly sweet;
You who are steel-braced, straight-lipped, enduring,
Dreadless in danger and dire in defeat:
Honor the High North ever and ever,
Whether she crown you, or whether she slay;
Suffer her fury, cherish and love her–
He who would rule he must learn to obey.

Men of the High North, fierce mountains love you;
Proud rivers leap when you ride on their breast.
See, the austere sky, pensive above you,
Dons all her jewels to smile on your rest.
Children of Freedom, scornful of frontiers,
We who are weaklings honor your worth.
Lords of the wilderness, Princes of Pioneers,
Let’s have a rouse that will ring round the earth.

 

Passer Mortuus Est by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Death devours all lovely things:

Lesbia with her sparrow

Shares the darkness,–presently

Every bed is narrow.

Unremembered as old rain

Dries the sheer libation;

And the little petulant hand

Is an annotation.

After all, my erstwhile dear,

My no longer cherished,

Need we say it was not love,

Just because it perished?

Time Does not Bring Relief by Enda St. Vincent Millay

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied

Who told me time would ease me of my pain!

I miss him in the weeping of the rain;

I want him at the shrinking of the tide;

The old snows melt from every mountain-side,

And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;

But last year’s bitter loving must remain

Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide!

There are a hundred places where I fear

To go,–so with his memory they brim!

And entering with relief some quiet place

Where never fell his foot or shone his face

I say, “There is no memory of him here!”

And so stand stricken, so remembering him!

The End of the World by Archibald MacLeish

Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot

The armless ambidextrian was lighting

A match between his great and second toe,

And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting

The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum

Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough

In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb

Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

 

And there, there overhead, there, there hung over

Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,

There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,

There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,

There in the sudden blackness the black pall

Of nothing, nothing, nothing — nothing at all.

Prophecy by Elinor Wylie

I shall lie hidden in a hut
In the middle of an alder wood,
With the back door blind and bolted shut,
And the front door locked for good.


I shall lie folded like a saint,
Lapped in a scented linen sheet,
On a bedstead striped with bright-blue paint,
Narrow and cold and neat.

The midnight will be glassy black
Behind the panes, which wind about
To set his mouth against a crack
And blow the candle out.

 

Now Let No Charitable Hope by Elinor Wylie

Now let no charitable hope
Confuse my mind with images
Of eagle and of antelope:
I am by nature none of these.

I was, being human, born alone;
I am, being woman, hard beset;
I live by squeezing from a stone
What little nourishment I get.

In masks outrageous and austere
The years go by in single file;
But none has merited my fear,
And none has quite escaped my smile.

The Eagle and the Mole by Elinor Wylie

Avoid the reeking herd,

Shun the polluted flock,

Live like that stoic bird,

The eagle of the rock.

 

The huddled warmth of crowds

Begets and fosters hate;

He keeps above the clouds

His cliff inviolate.

 

When flocks are folded warm,

And herds to shelter run,

He sails above the storm,

He stares into the sun.

 

If in the eagle’s track

Your sinews cannot leap,

Avoid the lathered pack,

Turn from the steaming sheep.

 

If you would keep your soul

From spotted sight or sound,

Live like the velvet mole:

Go burrow underground.

 

And there hold intercourse

With roots of trees and stones,

With rivers at their source,

And disembodied bones.

 

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